Image source, Wa policeImage caption, Cleo Smith was rescued by police 18 days after she was taken from a campsite

An Australian man has launched a defamation case against one of the nation's biggest news channels after it wrongly identified him as an alleged child abductor.

In a missing child case that gripped the nation, Cleo Smith, 4, was rescued from a stranger's home on 3 November.

Police had charged Terence Kelly with her abduction.

But hours after his arrest, Seven wrongly published photos of Terrance Flowers, another Aboriginal man.

His lawyers said Seven had significantly injured his character and reputation by misrepresenting him as the main suspect.

In the rush after Cleo was found, the news organisation had taken four photos from Mr Flowers' Facebook account – where he used his mother's maiden name Kelly – without his consent.

Seven then published them across several broadcasts, an online news article and social media posts where they identified Mr Flowers with headings such as: "Pictured: The man accused of abducting Cleo Smith".

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Seven's publication of the photos on 3 November were also the first images reported to the public of the suspect in the high-profile case.

The station was made aware of its mistake on the same day of publication after which it "promptly removed" the photos, Seven said. It issued an apology online and in broadcasts the next day.

"[Mr Flowers] a new father himself, was in no way connected with Cleo's abduction and his Facebook photos should not have been used," the network said.

But Mr Flowers' lawyers said the publication had caused significant distress to him and his family.

"The publications by the Seven Network led to Mr Flowers being made the subject of hate around the nation and the world and resulted in him being hospitalised with a severe panic attack," his lawyers said.

"It is of great concern to Mr Flowers and his family that a major media company would proceed with a story of this magnitude without being absolutely certain as to its accuracy.

"The effect of this substantial error has been devastating."

Seven said it had no comment on the matter.

Mr Kelly has been charged with kidnapping offences and is next due to face court in early December.

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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, "My name is Cleo": Listen to the moment police found the missing girl